Ready for a Holiday

Northwoods Journal

Friday, July 3, 2015

Up at 4:15 a.m. and on the road by 5:10. Even though we weren’t the only ones to have the bright idea of getting on the road before dawn, we still made quick time and would have arrived at the cabin by 9:30. That is until we got just north of Mio, in Amish country, and Mark started seeing signs for garage sales. That meant a detour and not arriving until after 11 o’clock.

As soon as we arrived, Mark finished putting in the window screens while I unpacked. In a blink it was time for lunch so we made sandwiches and ate out on the porch. I put out the bird feeders and hung the nectar feeder, but nothing was stirring in the bird world, at least not close up.

Of course, as soon as lunch was over, the dogs wanted their hike. After six hours of riding in the car, I guess they figured they had earned some exercise! Mark has cut a nice path from our fire pit back through our woods to the clear-cut area. This means we can get to Stevens Spring Road and all the trails without having to walk through the “neighborhood” and worry about other dogs.

We decided to just walk back to Sportsmen Dam via the two-track behind our place. The first thing we saw when we got into the rye field at the lake was that someone had recently camped back there and left a whole pile of trash (pop bottles, beer cans, etc.) in the fire ring. They also had set off all kinds of fireworks and there was paper and cardboard and crap EVERYWHERE. Don’t even get me started on people who litter!!! Ugh!! Makes me so angry!  If you can haul it in, you can haul it back out!

At the little boat launch area Milo plunged right in the water! That was unusual. He is not big on swimming. And it wasn’t even that hot of a day!

Milo plunges into Sportsmen Dam Lake.
Milo plunges into Sportsmen Dam Lake.

This bright green frog was not the least disturbed by our presence.

Bright green frog.
Bright green frog.

There were plenty of birds flitting about in the brush around the lake. We saw two different birds that were unusual to our eye but I was unable to get photos (mostly thanks to having a dog on a leash!) so we were unable to identify them. After we brought the dogs back – we saw a deer in the clear cut area behind our property on the way back – Mark and I drove back to the lake hoping to see those birds again but they were long gone. There were several turtles sunning themselves, so I busied myself getting a few photos of them.

Painted turtle sunning itself on a log.
Painted turtle sunning itself on a log.
Painted turtle with nowhere to go.

Painted turtle with nowhere to go.

And then I crawled around in the tall grass getting pictures of this badly battered swallowtail butterfly.

Badly battered butterfly.
Badly battered butterfly.
Tiger swallowtail that has been munched.  Still beautiful!

Tiger swallowtail that has been munched. Still beautiful!

I know an “artist” isn’t supposed to brag on their own work, but I have to say I was pretty pleased with the butterfly shots! Hey, even a blind squirrel finds an acorn now and then. There was a song sparrow willing to pose for photos.

Song sparrow high in the tree.
Song sparrow high in the tree.
Mark thought this was a Savannah sparrow but I say song sparrow.

Mark thought this was a Savannah sparrow but I say song sparrow.

We also saw savannah sparrows and Mark thought the bird in the above photo is a Savannah sparrow, but I thought it was a song sparrow.  It’s not a good photo as the camera decided to focus on the green leaves behind the bird and not the bird itself.  And then I had to crop it.  I did get a few shots of this cedar waxwing.

Cedar waxwing.
Cedar waxwing.

Back at the cabin we went to work setting up the hammock and all the yard things that make us feel at home. We were in the process of doing this when a man came up the driveway on a backhoe. It was the septic guy come to dig another test hole, this time in front of the trailer. (The hole he dug in the back a couple of weeks ago showed the water table was much too high to put the new septic system in the back.) They had contacted Miss Dig and they came out and marked where the electric line runs, so no worries of digging up something they shouldn’t. We were all pleased when the new test hole was bone dry and remained that way.

No water in the new test hole for the septic!
No water in the new test hole for the septic!
Cordoning it off so no one falls in the hole.

Cordoning it off so no one falls in the hole.

Now I guess it’s just a matter of getting the inspector out to approve the location and then hopefully things will finally get started. The one thing I have learned is that things run at a whole different pace up here than they do down home! Nobody is in any hurry to get anything done. We have given our contractor a whole list of projects we want done besides the septic field and well, and all that’s happened in a month’s time is two test holes have been dug. Big sigh…

Dinner was eaten out on the porch under our new string lights that look like fishing bobbers. (Our previous bobber lights got destroyed by red squirrels.) Three tiki torches helped keep the mosquitoes at bay. After dinner we drove down to this two-track called Teets Trail. We were very curious because our GPS told us to take Teets Trail to go home the last time we were up and there is a sign right at the road that says “Dead End”. Mark looked it up on the satellite map and it definitely showed a road going through back there, so we wanted to know if it was passable or not. It turns out it is NOT because there are two locked gates back there! One goes to private property and the other is a gas field. We had no compunction about going under that gate and walking the trail, which eventually did go through private property so we had to turn around and come back out. We did see a snowshoe hair – I was so bummed I couldn’t get a photo! We also saw a deer and I found a little, tiny nest that had blown out of a tree. It is not much bigger than the palm of my hand and it is lined with deer hair.

I had bought this new book and had read it on the way up called Better Photo Basics (more on that later) and so after we got home I tried to experiment some with taking some macro shots at different angles and using different camera settings. I wasn’t that happy with the results as the pictures didn’t come out quite as I had wanted. But at least I’m getting braver about trying things with my camera!

Tiny bird's nest lined with deer hair.
Tiny bird’s nest lined with deer hair.
Trying for the artistic black & white shot.

Trying for the artistic black & white shot.

I was hoping the black and white image would be better than it turned out. Oh well, I still have my butterfly shots! LOL

Since we were up before dawn, it was early to bed. We needed plenty of rest for celebrating the 4th!

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Misery Loves Company

To say today’s weather has been miserable would be an understatement. Pouring rain for 24+ hours, strong gusting wind, and a high temperature barely above 60 degrees. Is this summer?? I’m actually wearing polar fleece today!

It has been a good day to stay cuddled up inside with the two granddoggers (the doxies are staying with us while their parents – our daughter & son-in-law – take a little trip to the Upper Peninsula) and watch the poor, waterlogged birds.

Considering my photography is not that good even on the best of days, it was probably pretty foolish of me to try and capture my feathered friends in the driving rain, but hey, it was better than scrubbing the bathrooms! 🙂

To start off with, here is our beagle, Daisy, who we have decided has OCD – Obsessive Critter Disorder. If she thinks there is a squirrel, mole, or rabbit anywhere around, she will not come in the house no matter the weather. She literally sat outside in the pouring rain for HOURS today staring up at the crabapple tree.

Daisy waiting for the non-existent squirrel to come down from the crabapple tree.
Daisy waiting for the non-existent squirrel to come down from the crabapple tree.

The beagles often tree squirrels in that crabapple right outside my kitchen window, (one day I was entertained for more than an hour as a squirrel tried to figure out how to get down from there while being watched by Daisy and Ruby) but I know there was no squirrel up there today. I know this because the squirrel was in the front yard on the bird feeder stump!

Raiding fox squirrel.
Raiding fox squirrel.

 I ran that guy off at least a dozen times, but he never went far. All he did was scramble up the sassafras tree right next to the house and then he would come right back down the moment my back was turned.

Even when the weather is miserable, the birds still need to eat.

Female house finches in the rain.
Female house finches in the rain.
Soaked blue jay.
Soaked blue jay.

Don’t they look pathetic? But, misery must love company, because despite the rain, there were plenty of birds at the feeders!

With this shot I was attempting to copy H.J. at Avian 101, he always captures birds in these awesome perch poses. Of course, he’s a real pro at bird photography and I’m…well, I am not.

Grackle doing the splits.
Grackle doing the splits.
Brown-headed cowbird.
Brown-headed cowbird.

Don’t you just feel terrible for this pitiful mourning dove?

Pitiful mourning dove.
Pitiful mourning dove.

And here’s a white-breasted nuthatch for Mr. Tootlepedal. It started off on the cherry tree…

White-breasted nuthatch.
White-breasted nuthatch.

Then moved to the bark butter feeder.

White-breasted nuthatch on the bark butter feeder.
White-breasted nuthatch on the bark butter feeder.

The bark butter was very popular today.

Downy woodpecker on the bark butter feeder.
Downy woodpecker on the bark butter feeder.
Rec-bellied woodpecker (F) on the bark butter feeder.
Red-bellied woodpecker (F) on the bark butter feeder.
Hairy woodpecker on the cherry tree after getting some bark butter.

Hairy woodpecker on the cherry tree after getting some bark butter.

But the other feeders saw plenty of action, too.

Male house finch eating from the swing feeder.
Male house finch eating from the swing feeder.
European sparrow on the stump.

European sparrow on the stump.

Finches feasting in the downpour.

Finches feasting in the downpour.

Male house finch.  Probably my favorite image of the day.

Male house finch. Probably my favorite image of the day.

Eventually the hanging basket of red flowers you see in the finch/swing photo had to be taken down and brought onto the porch because it was getting so waterlogged.  The red hummingbird feeder pole, where the grackle and cowbird had perched, also had to come down as it was practically being blown over in the wind.

As the dreariness of the day increased (really, could it get any worse?), I noticed a downy on the bark butter. He then flew onto the sassafras to feed a youngster. I watched for quite some time, trying to capture them together without success. The juvenile went too far up in the sassafras tree.

Daddy downy woodpecker getting bark butter for the baby.
Daddy downy woodpecker getting bark butter for the baby.
He took it way up in the sassafras tree to the baby.  Can you spot him way up there?
He took it way up in the sassafras tree to the baby. Can you spot him way up there?

Later, as I took a break from cleaning bathrooms – yes I did eventually clean them but it took me forever because I kept stopping to look out the window and take pictures! – I saw the father and baby together. Unfortunately, these shots are pretty terrible because of the light and the glare off the tree. But, you get the idea.  I tried to fix them up with a little editing, but there wasn’t much I could do to help them.

Father and baby.
Father and baby.
Daddy downy and baby.
Daddy downy and baby.

Even drenched, the cardinals were hard to get a shot of. I managed to sneak and get one decent photo over the back of the sofa. Shhhh, don’t tell! 🙂

Male cardinal hoping for some seed to fall from the stump.
Male cardinal hoping for some seed to fall from the stump.

To make up for these fairly bad, rainy-day photos, I am going to leave you with one from yesterday, when it wasn’t raining! (No rain is a rare occurrence around here these days!) Two baby bunnies have a nest under our burn pile. When Mark was out mowing yesterday, they got scared and crawled farther up into the pile. Mark was worried they wouldn’t be able to get back out, so we propped the wood up a bit and I took a couple of pictures before leaving them to come out in their own good time.

Cute baby bunnies - future garden destroyers. :)
Cute baby bunnies – future garden destroyers. 🙂

On a side note, these bunnies have been driving the beagles CRAZY because their nest is a mere two feet outside the fence! Thankfully, they will probably be hopping off soon. Of course, their nest is also a mere four feet from Mark’s vegetable garden, sooooooo, they might not go anywhere.

Lastly, here a couple photos taken last weekend when we were still up north. I did not write any more Northwoods Journal posts because we really didn’t do anything worth talking about and the photos I did take were sorely disappointing to me. I was close to giving up on this whole trying-to-learn-photography thing. These aren’t very good, either, but I caught a couple deer on “film” (okay, a memory card) and with a bit of editing they aren’t gosh-awful. I liked the buck showing off his newly sprouted antlers.

Doe in the northwoods.
Doe in the northwoods.
Young buck with fuzz-covered antlers.
Young buck with fuzz-covered antlers.

I hope you are all having a blessed weekend. Stay dry, my friends!!

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Rolling On the River

Northwoods Journal

Friday, June 19, 2015

Mark left work at 1 p.m. yesterday (Thursday) and I had just about everything loaded up and ready to go when he got home so we were on the road by 2:08. The idea was that we were leaving “early” and would therefore miss all the rush hour traffic. Unfortunately there was some sort of highway incident at Milan – rumor said a dump truck had snagged some power lines and brought them down over the road – and we hadn’t even gone 20 miles when we were stuck in stopped-dead traffic. We crept and crawled along for an hour. I don’t know how true the dump truck story was, but we did pass a semi-truck that had been going northbound and must have gotten tired of sitting in traffic so decided to try and cross the grassy median to make a U-turn to the southbound lanes. Needless to say, with all the rain we’ve been having, that didn’t work out so well, so the stuck semi was causing more backups for both north and southbound lanes. It appeared the truck driver was getting written up by the State Police as we crept by. Two hours after hitting the road we finally made it to Brighton – a whole 40 miles from home!

Thankfully, once we got past Flint, it was fairly smooth sailing. We stopped at a rest area just south of Pinconning and as we were getting the dogs out, Mark spotted a lot of activity in the mulberry trees nearby. They were full of cedar waxwings!! I’ve gotten smart and now keep my camera case in the front with me so I quickly grabbed my camera and got a few shots. I was so excited! I rarely get to see cedar waxwings and this was my first time ever getting photos! I think they are one of the coolest looking birds and I’m always delighted when they show up in Quiet Solo Pursuits’ posts.

Cedar waxwing in mulberry tree.

Cedar waxwing in mulberry tree.

Cedar waxwing in mulberry tree.
Cedar waxwing in mulberry tree.
Cedar waxwing in mulberry tree.

Cedar waxwing in mulberry tree.

As you can see from the photos, the wind was really blowing. I was behind the wheel when we left the rest area and hadn’t driven five miles when we hit torrential downpours. The rain came down so hard I could barely see the road! This is when being a praying person really comes in handy and thankfully the heavy squalls were intermittent and by time we got off at exit 202 the worst of the rain was behind us.

A drive that normally takes us between 4 and 4 ½ hours took nearly 5 ½ but we arrived safe and sound and except for the grass (really, weeds) being knee high and our woods looking like a jungle and mosquitoes swarming like mad, everything was in good shape when we got here. After we unpacked, the dogs wanted their hike so we took them up Stevens Spring to the ATV trail. As we were walking up the road, there was a bird high up in the trees really giving us a hard time. When we stopped to see what it was, Mark noticed a hanging nest! So, then we knew it was an oriole chattering at us. Of course, I had not taken my camera! We walked the ATV trail toward Sportmens Dam Lake and saw a couple of deer and then sand hill cranes in the marshy area near the lake’s north end. I was so mad I hadn’t taken my camera! Today I went back and took a picture of the nest.

Hanging basket oriole nest.

Hanging basket oriole nest.

Since we cancelled our big vacation down to the mountains, I told Mark I didn’t want this weekend to be all about work, or all about keeping the dogs placated, I wanted to do some “vacation” type things. Thanks to the US23 Heritage Route website, I discovered there is a paddleboat cruise out of Oscoda that goes up the Au Sable River. This sounded like something fun and different, so I made reservations for us to take the cruise.

Oscoda is about a 1 ½ hour drive from our cabin and we were supposed to be at the dock by 12:30, so we left our place just before 10. The day was nearly perfect, except for maybe a bit on the chilly side, but there was plenty of sun and blue sky. It was a very pretty drive and since we had extra time to spare, we stopped at the Lumberman’s Monument and Visitor’s Center.

This might come as a surprise but there is a monument to the lumbermen at this park.

Lumbermen's monument, front view.

Lumbermen’s monument, front view.

Lumbermen's monument, back view.
Lumbermen’s monument, back view.

  I was pretty disappointed when I uploaded my photos and saw that the middle figure’s face is entirely in shadow. I wish I would have paid more attention when I took the photo! Good thing I got one from the back where there was plenty of light. 🙂

The park commands a grand view of the Au Sable River.

The Au Sable River and Cook's Pond.

The Au Sable River and Cook’s Pond.

We decided to walk the steps down to the floating cook shack.

Floating cook shack.

Floating cook shack.

Floating cook shack.
Floating cook shack.

These dunes can be seen at many spots along the river and they are called rollways because the lumbermen used to stack giant pyramids of logs at the top, and then roll them down the bank into the water.

One of the many rollways along the Au Sable River.

One of the many rollways along the Au Sable River.

Here is a view of some of the 250+ steps we had to walk down and then back up again. (I’m not sure of the exact number of steps, a sign near the top said 242 but the brochure from the park said 280. You can tell they have recently been rebuilt.)

It was easier going down than back up! :)

It was easier going down than back up! 🙂

There are nearly 8 miles of hiking trails in the park and also many educational and interpretive exhibits of the lumbering era. We definitely want to go back when we have more time to explore the area.

We arrived at the Au Sable River Queen dock just before 12:30. The temperature had dropped and it was very windy and cold.

The Au Sable River Queen at dock.

The Au Sable River Queen at dock.

The Au Sable River Queen.
The Au Sable River Queen.

They began boarding the boat at 12:45 and the cruise was supposed to leave at 1 o’clock. They were waiting on a tour bus full of people that was running late. A little known fact about me is that from March of 1986 until September of 2002 I suffered with debilitating panic attacks and anxiety. For a time I became agoraphobic and could barely leave my house to do the most basic of tasks. Eventually I was put on medication that saved my life and helped me function. Then, in September of 2002 I experienced what can only be described as a miraculous encounter that returned me to being a normal person and I haven’t been on anti-anxiety meds since. With the onset of my lymphocytic colitis a year-and-a-half ago, I began having small bouts of anxiety from time to time. As we sat on the Au Sable River Queen I had the worst panic attack I’ve had in nearly 13 years. If you’ve never experienced a panic attack for yourself, there is absolutely no way I can adequately describe it in words. All I can say is I thought for sure that I was going to run off that boat and we were going to have to eat our $30. Mark must have seen the look on my face because he asked me if I was okay and I told him I was having a panic attack. He talked me down off the ledge and told me that once we got moving and I could take pictures, I would be fine. I wasn’t so sure. We were probably a good 20 or 30 minutes into the cruise before I stopped feeling like I was going to throw myself overboard. Here is the view from my window.

My view from the paddleboat.

My view from the paddleboat.

And here is the Foote Dam that creates this giant body of water out of the Au Sable River.

Foote Dam.  Rather unimpressive from this side.

Foote Dam. Rather unimpressive from this side.

The cruise lasts approximately two hours and goes 19 miles round trip. The ship is a little shabby but they have a snack bar on board and a bar for alcoholic drinks on the upper deck. Depending on your sense of humor, you may enjoy Captain Roger’s jokes, or you might not. 😉 Once I calmed down, I did enjoy the cruise very much. It was a pleasant jaunt and we got to see a juvenile bald eagle along the way.

Juvenile bald eagle.

Juvenile bald eagle.

Unfortunately everything was a bit far out of my camera range. There was also a turtle sunning itself on a stump.

Turtle sunning itself on a stump.

Turtle sunning itself on a stump.

There were lots of sea gulls circling around us the entire time and I tried to get a good flying bird photo, but they were just too quick for me.

One of many gulls following us upriver.

One of many gulls following us upriver.

When we made the turn to head back down river, Mark and I moved to the upper deck to see how the view was from there. I got some nice shots of the paddlewheel.

Paddlewheel.

Paddlewheel.

Paddlewheel.

Paddlewheel.

As we passed Devil’s Island – yes, at one time this used to be an island until an ice flow took out the last of the trees – I noticed a common tern among all the gulls.

What's left of Devil's Island.

What’s left of Devil’s Island.

Common tern among the gulls.

Common tern among the gulls.

Despite the panic attack at the beginning, I thought the cruise was very enjoyable. Mark thought it was a bit too long. I think if I had a complaint it would be that there wasn’t more wildlife to see. The cruise is most popular in the fall when they do color tours twice a day during the week and three times a day on weekends in September and October.

It was after 5 p.m. when we returned home. The first thing we saw when we drove in was that the septic guy had been here to dig the test hole – and he had dug it right where the current septic is, digging up one of the existing pipes. Such is our life.

Mark wanted to set right to work on mowing so I took the dogs for a quick walk up the road. When we were coming back down Stevens Spring, a deer stepped out into the road. She was quickly joined by a fawn. I was so excited, but even more so when a second fawn stepped out of the woods! Of course, right about then the three beagles saw them and set to howling, causing the doe and her twins to quickly dash back in to the cover of the woods.

After dinner and dishes we sat outside around a campfire for about an hour but since we are so close to summer solstice it still wasn’t dark when we came back inside to get ready for bed!

I’m closing this post with a photo of a sassy red ground squirrel who was giving me the business after I chased her away from the bird seed. I know Mr. Tootlepedal has a fondness for red squirrels, even though ours aren’t as cute as the Scottish kind.

Red ground squirrel eating bird food.

Red ground squirrel eating bird food.

Red ground squirrel reading me the riot act.

Red ground squirrel reading me the riot act.

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Out in the Openings

I’ve mentioned previously that there are many benefits to living in my little corner of southeast Michigan, one of them being that we can live a rural/suburban life while having city conveniences just a half-dozen miles down the road.

My home is only about 6 miles north of the Ohio border, with the city of Toledo located right on the state line. Toledo has been the brunt of many jokes and much maligned in the past, and it does have its blight and troubles. But the fact is, there are also many positives about this mid-sized city. It boasts a world-class zoo — rated #1 in the country, the best hockey arena in the ECHL, and a fabulous metro-park system.

I was pretty excited when my new birding buddy, Rachel, asked me to join her and her friend, Renee, at the largest of Toledo’s metro-parks, Oak Openings, to do some birding. Many different species have been seen there recently and she thought it would be an excellent opportunity for me to add a few more to my 2015 Big Bird List.

Oak Openings Preserve, located out near Swanton, Ohio, past the Toledo Express Airport, consists of more than 3,700 acres of varying habitats – from oak savannahs to sand dunes to swamp. There are more than 50 miles of trails throughout the park, some for hiking, some for biking, and some for horses.

We met at the Buehner Center where they have a “window on wildlife” with a water feature and plenty of bird feeders, but there wasn’t much to be seen there. We were blessed with an absolutely PERFECT June day for walking in the park — and this turned out to be somewhat of an unfortunate thing. Because a perfect day means plenty of sunshine, and also plenty of shade and shadows, which did not make for good photography.

Our first subject was this blue heron who posed quite patiently for pictures.

Great blue heron.

Great blue heron.

As you can see, he was in dappled sunlight. My first attempts were too washed out, then they were too green. Because of the bright light, his head and neck got washed out. This next photo is not the greatest but I was fascinated by it because it shows so well how his gangly body is put together. Really, you have to admit it’s kind of weird looking! 🙂

Great blue heron.

Great blue heron.

Gray catbirds were everywhere! This one was singing up a storm and stayed still but was in deep shadow in the branches. I had to lighten this up considerably.

Gray catbird singing despite his bad feather day.

Gray catbird singing despite his bad feather day.

He looks to be molting. See his funky feathers sticking out every which way? But he doesn’t let a bad feather day get him down!

My best shot of the day was probably this macro shot of these pretty blossoms. I’m not sure what they are but they smelled heavenly!

Beautiful blossoms.

Beautiful blossoms.

Overall, this indigo bunting demonstrates our experiences for the day. Birds sitting high up in the tippy tops of trees and branches in direct sunlight.

Indigo bunting basking in the sun.

Indigo bunting basking in the sun.

Obviously the birds wanted to enjoy the perfect day as well!

(I want to add here that Mark and I discovered a very interesting fact about indigo buntings. You professional-type birders probably already know this but we were fascinated to find out that indigo buntings don’t actually have any blue pigment in their feathers which is why if they are in the top of a tree in bright sunlight they look completely black and you think they are a cowbird or something! LOL Now, how do you think we found that out? 😉 )

Here’s another example of a bird basking in the sun — in the light and out of range!  I “think”, after zooming way in on this on my computer, that this is just a chipping sparrow.

Chipping sparrow (?) hanging out in the sun.

Chipping sparrow (?) hanging out in the sun.

The most exciting thing for me about the day was that Oak Openings is rife with red-headed woodpeckers!! I was hoping and praying to see at least one and my hopes were exceeded far above my expectations. We ended up seeing so many that we stopped mentioning them after awhile!

Of course, they too were hanging out at the tops of trees, in bright sun, usually a bit beyond the range of my camera!

Red-headed woodpecker observes the tornado damage.

Red-headed woodpecker observes the tornado damage.

 

Red-headed woodpecker on branch.

Red-headed woodpecker on branch.

Red-headed woodpecker high up in the sun.

Red-headed woodpecker high up in the sun.

We also got a split-second glimpse of an eastern towhee. I got one, very blurry and underexposed photo that I have enough pride to not share here. We also saw summer tanagers, which was very exciting! They too, were up in the canopy right above my head and I was unable to get focused on them at all, so no photo. But Rachel did get a couple of shots with her DSLR and we were able to make a positive identification so I could add them to my list!

While we were tracking down the summer tanagers, this group of horseback riders came down the trail.

Horseback riders enjoying the trails at Oak Openings.

Horseback riders enjoying the trails at Oak Openings.

The indigo buntings nest in Oak Openings so there were plenty to be seen. I finally managed one decent shot, although this is cropped, as are most of the photos in this post.

Indigo bunting.

Indigo bunting.

This yellow warbler was one of the most cooperative subjects of the day, although still on a high branch in the sun.

Yellow warbler.

Yellow warbler.

Yellow warbler sitting pretty.

Yellow warbler sitting pretty.

There was also a male ruby-throated hummingbird perched on a branch.

Ruby-throated hummingbird soaking up the sun.

Ruby-throated hummingbird soaking up the sun.

Ruby-throated hummingbird.

Ruby-throated hummingbird.

It was cool to see them “in the wild” and not just at a nectar feeder!

In 2010 a tornado ripped through a section of the park and the damage caused is still quite evident. You can see it here in the dead trees sticking out from the landscape.

Evidence of the 2010 tornado.

Evidence of the 2010 tornado.

Although the park is still recovering from the damage caused by the tornado, I wonder if all those dead trees are the reason the red-headed woodpeckers are so prolific there.

After two hours, Rachel had to leave for an appointment. I walked along Mallard Lake. It’s a very serene setting and you can see why it is a favorite spot of those that frequent the park.

Mallard Lake.

Mallard Lake.

Mallard Lake.

Mallard Lake.

I just wish I could get better at landscape shots. Now that prime bird photography time is past, maybe I will focus more on landscapes for the rest of the summer. Seriously, there is a reason that early May is prime time for birding in Michigan. By early June, these are the kinds of bird photos you get!

Bird, where out thou?

Bird, where art thou?

Yes, there is a bird there! Can you see it? Don’t ask me what it is, I have no idea. Even with zooming in on my computer, I can’t figure it out.

Speaking of not being able to figure a bird out — I need the help of some of my more seasoned birding friends. I have gotten shots of two different birds that neither Mark nor I could identify. Now trust me, we are NOT lazy birders! We spent a long time last night poring over these photos and going through THREE different field guides page by page.  We also consulted the All About Birds web site. We looked at every photo and illustration and could not figure these two birds out with any amount of certainty. This first one, I was sure was a savannah sparrow.

Mystery bird, or savannah sparrow?

Mystery bird, or savannah sparrow?

But due to the yellow tone in the belly, Mark didn’t agree. We thought perhaps the yellow was a trick of the lighting, but it appears in every shot I took.

Name this bird...

Name this bird…

Mystery bird.

Mystery bird.

After Rachel left, Renee and I decided to walk to the sand dunes. Once we got there, I saw this bird hopping along. Again, I didn’t have the chance to take many shots. There is a distinct white spot behind the eye.

Another mystery bird.

Another mystery bird.

Again, Mark and I pored over the field guides, page by page, and nothing looked like this!  Anyone want to venture an opinion?

Mystery bird.

Mystery bird.

The sand dunes were really neat to see and you come upon them so unexpectedly. We walked through oak and fern and then up a hill and here is the view of sand.

Sand dunes at Oak Openings Preserve.

Sand dunes at Oak Openings Preserve.

A sea - well, maybe a lake - of sand.

A sea – well, maybe a lake – of sand.

Maybe not as impressive as Sleeping Bear Dunes, but still a very interesting geologic feature.

We saw more red-headed woodpeckers as we were returning to the Buehner Center. I had to play with these quite a bit because the green leaves gave a distinct green cast to the white feathers on the woodpeckers back!

Red-headed woodpecker.

Red-headed woodpecker.

Red-headed woodpecker.

Red-headed woodpecker.

Just before we got to the parking lot, Renee and I stopped to admire the way the sunbeams came through the pine boughs. Unfortunately, my camera did not capture the moment the exact way I saw it with my eyes, but still you can see what a pretty place this is.

Sunbeams filtering through pine boughs.

Sunbeams filtering through pine boughs.

The beauty of the path.

The beauty of the path.

Overall, I was ecstatic with the day. I was able to add the eastern towhee, summer tanager, and red-headed woodpecker to my 2015 Big Bird list, bringing my total of species for the year to 88. If any of you can help me identify these two unknowns, then hopefully I will be at 90!

We barely scratched the surface of what Oak Openings has to offer, so I hope to return again soon with Mark to make further explorations of this wonderful nature preserve.

On a down note, some of you may remember that we were planning a big hiking vacation down to the mountains of Skyline Drive and the Blue Ridge Parkway.  After much discussion, Mark and I decided to cancel our trip.  I spent part of yesterday afternoon canceling all our hotel reservations.  It was a bit of a disappointment, but we have decided we are best to focus our time and financial resources on our place in the northwoods rather than on a vacation.  So, in a couple of weeks, there will be new Northwoods Journal entries.  I know you all will be waiting with baited breath! LOL 😀

Have a blessed day and I hope you all get a chance to take a walk in a park near you!

Posted in My Life, Photo Ops | Tagged , , , , , | 18 Comments

Owl Be Seeing You

Northwoods Journal
Sunday, May 24, 2015

The weather did change just like the forecast predicted and we woke to gray skies and high humidity. It was very warm when I put out all the bird feeders.

Mark’s first priority for the day was rebuilding the pump house before the rain came. I had no priorities at all and made good use of it. It was warm enough to eat lunch out on the porch and then we got around to take the dogs for their hike.

The low pressure system made both of us less than enthusiastic about walking, but the dogs need their exercise. Mark drove west of town and then turned north on Thornton Road, past this ratty horse farm/riding stable to where Thornton turns into Meaford. We have hiked this area before and there are some real dark cedar swamps in this area, perfect for black bear.

I don’t know if the low pressure was affecting the dogs or what, but they were all fairly badly behaved. We had to keep putting them on the short leash, which works but doesn’t make for a fun hike for any of us. We could hear plenty of black-throated green warblers but couldn’t see them. We did see a couple of northern goshawks, so that was a new bird to add to my 2015 Big Bird List. Mark wanted to take more time looking for the birds, but the beagles would have none of it. He got so annoyed that we cut our hike short and went back to the cabin to leave the dogs and go do some birding instead.

After leaving the dogs, we headed toward Brush Creek where there is a watershed area perfect for warblers. Mark was cruising down Brush Creek Truck Trail at about 40 MPH when I spotted something in a tree on the side of the road. I threw out my arm to grab at his shouting, “Wait, wait, wait! That was an owl!”

It took several seconds for him to come to a stop, then to back up to where I had seen it perched back in on a tree limb. I thought for sure it would have flown away, but thankfully it was still there – a barred owl!! I was so excited!! Of course, now we were enveloped in a cloud of dust that we had to wait a moment for it to settle, then I started clicking away with my camera.

There was a branch right across the owl’s face, so my first photo looked like this.

Barred owl with branch across its face.

Barred owl with branch across its face.

I asked Mark to try and pull forward just a little, but that didn’t help much, the branch was still there but the leaves were in a different spot.

Barred owl, still with branch across its face.

Barred owl, still with branch across its face.

Finally, I handed Mark the camera and slid out through the open window to perch on the door. Mark handed the camera back and I was able to get a few clearer shots.

A clearer view of the barred owl. :)

A clearer view of the barred owl. 🙂

Of course, the lighting was not very good — mid-afternoon on a cloudy day and the owl was sitting back in the shadow of the trees, so I had to edit these quite a bit with my limited software.

I have had quite the “owl envy” of Bob Zeller down at Texas Tweeties, he has gotten the most magnificent owl photos! Mine cannot come close to comparing to his masterpieces (check out his blog for the most amazing bird photography!) but I sure was a happy camper having gotten a few shots of this barred owl, a first for me.

The owl soon tired of being photographed and flew off so we continued on to Brush Creek with high hopes.

There is an earthen dam across Brush Creek that creates a small floodwater. The dam is topped with plenty of brush and bushes and there is a very narrow trail, used mostly by deer, along the side. You have to really watch your step or you will end up in the water!

Earthen dam across Brush Creek with narrow trail.

Earthen dam across Brush Creek with narrow trail.

Brush Creek where it flows out under the dam.
Brush Creek where it flows out under the dam.
Brush Creek flowing on down the river.
Brush Creek flowing on down the river.

(I have to confess I took the above 3 photos the next day when we went back, and didn’t see any birds!)

We were pleased to see plenty of small birds flitting about, but the brush was so thick and the warblers so quick that I was unable to get any photos at all. We saw a Wilson’s warbler with his distinct black cap, what I believe was a female American redstart, common yellowthroats, and northern water thrushes. We went all the way across the dam and then made our way through the marsh to view the opposite side. It wasn’t until we were headed back across the dam that a warbler came out in the open enough for a few photos.

Female yellowthroat?

Female yellowthroat?

Female common yellowthroat?

Female common yellowthroat?

After consulting all our various field guides, Mark and I believe this is a female common yellowthroat. At first I thought it was a female Wilson’s warbler, but the beak doesn’t look exactly right. Feel free to give me your opinion in the comment section below!

On our way back up the hill, this chipmunk posed on a tree stump.

Chipmunk posing on tree stump.

Chipmunk posing on tree stump.

I decided to see how close I could get. 🙂

She let me get pretty close!

She let me get pretty close!

I have considered myself neither a “serious birder” (those people are crazy!) nor a serious photographer. But now that I willingly risk foraging through tick-infested marshlands – and trust me, we came out covered in plenty of ticks! – in search of elusive warblers, I think I can classify myself as a “serious birder” (and just a bit crazy!). And after climbing through the passenger side window to perch on the door of our vehicle to get shots of the barred owl, maybe I am a more serious photographer than I thought! 🙂

This will be the last journal entry for this trip. Nothing of much consequence or interest happened the rest of our stay. Tuesday morning before we packed up, we did meet with a builder/contractor/handyman guy to discuss having some improvements made to our place. After three years of searching we are pretty much giving up the thought of buying someplace new and have decided to invest a large chunk of change into this place. We are going to get the well, septic, electric upgrade, hot water heater, and several other projects like some repairs to the roof, a new window in the kitchen, the outside painted, etc. The man we met with came highly recommended by two different people but Mark and I did not come away from the meeting with giant feelings of confidence. I mean, he didn’t even take any notes!! So, we’ll see what happens. Now my job will be securing the finances for the well and septic, which will be the biggest expenses.

As we were on our way out to come home, we stopped in Elk Valley to give the dogs a hike before the long drive and we saw a black bear!!! That was pretty exciting, and maybe just a teensy bit scary. We have never seen one while hiking before! The dogs didn’t give it any mind as it crashed up the hill, but later as we looped around they must have gotten the scent because then Ruby really set to howling and carrying on.

So, I didn’t see an elk all week, but I did see a bear, which is just as good. If only I had gotten photos!!! Yeah, I guess I really am crazy!  🙂

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Hiking the High Country

Northwoods Journal
Saturday, May 23, 2015

(No journal post for Friday. The morning was spent going to garage sales between Atlanta and Lewiston, which all turned out to be fairly disappointing. Later in the day we went for a hike and nearly got “lost” in the woods. By time we finally found our trail, we were all covered with ticks! So, not the most interesting day to write about, LOL.)

My life down home is fairly hectic, especially during the preschool year. A while back there was this joke thing going around the internet, about when a man says he’s going to bed, he goes to bed. When a woman says she’s going to bed, she sets up the coffee maker then fills the dog’s water bowl, then remembers she needs to write out a check; when she goes to brush her teeth, she sees a towel on the floor and remembers she needs to put in a load of laundry, etc. Eventually she gets to bed. That pretty much describes me to a T. I’m a buzzing bee of activity all day long.

But when I come up here, I’m ready to kick back and relax. I am perfectly happy sitting on the porch all day long with my camera. Or, sitting at the kitchen table in front of the window watching the birds. For some reason, when we get up here, our roles are reversed and Mark becomes the industrious one, always needing to be busy with activity. This can, and has, led to a bit of friction from time to time.

Saturday morning I pretty much dug in my heels and decided I was not moving fast or hurrying around in the morning. I sat at the kitchen table watching the birds and worked on Thursday’s post/journal entry. (These things take me a loooooong time, by the way! I don’t have real internet here and only get 2 bars/3G on our mi-fi unit.)  I wasn’t even interested in having much for breakfast. Mark took the hint, making himself a Spam and egg sandwich and then going outside to play. Actually, to mow the grass.

It was a picture perfect up north Michigan day. The sky was a clear, crystal blue and the temperatures were mild. As much as I would have loved to laze about the entire day, I knew this was going to be the best day we would see for the weekend. The forecast was for the weather to turn cloudy with showers and storms possible. (Which they need up here, it has been very dry and the fire hazard is posted as high at the DNR.) I knew if we wanted to go on a really good hike, this was going to have to be the day. Around 11 o’clock I threw some drinks and snacks in a lunch cooler and off we went.

Thanks to Jerry at Quiet Solo Pursuits, we were able to acquire a nifty map of the Pigeon River area and the High Country Pathway. (If you are interested, the map is available for about $9 including shipping at www.PigeonRiver.org.)

Mark’s original idea was to go back to the Pigeon River – where we got a bit lost last year (you can read about that adventure here) – but that is a bit of a drive from us and we were getting a late start. Thanks to having the map, we were able to find a section of the High Country Pathway a bit closer to our area. We drove north on M33 towards Onaway, then turned west on Canada Creek Highway, then north again on Black River Road. There is a dirt parking area where the road crosses the Black River. This is obviously a popular spot for putting in kayaks and canoes, as we saw lots of people doing so both coming and going.

We chose to hike going northwest so we crossed the river at the bridge and quickly found the trail heading into the woods. It was a really lovely and pleasant trail and not overly strenuous. We hadn’t gone far when we came to this hill leading down to the river.

Looking downhill toward the Black River.

Looking downhill toward the Black River.

I wanted to get close to the water so we decided to hike down, even though Mark was afraid I would be done in by time we climbed back up!

On the shore of the Black River.

On the shore of the Black River.

It was very pretty along the river and we saw an indigo bunting singing high up in a tree top, too far away for a photo.

Milo and I both made it back to the top of the hill with no trouble and we continued on our hike. We had the trail to ourselves and it was quiet except for the sounds of birdsong. A bit farther down the trail we stopped to listen to a bird singing and soon saw it was this scarlet tanager.

Scarlet tanager in the treetop.

Scarlet tanager in the treetop.

The duration of our hikes is now limited to the stamina of the beagles. Milo is getting old and has bad joints and Daisy has a stage 2 heart murmur. So, when Milo starts to limp and pooter out and Daisy starts coughing, we know it’s time to stop. We hiked for about an hour, traveling maybe two miles, when Milo started to drag. We took a nice long break for water and some trail mix before heading back the way we had come. Mark and I would have gladly gone on farther, as we were really enjoying the hike and the day was so perfect, but the dogs come first. (And Milo is way too heavy to carry!)

Back at the parking area, this oriole was singing in a tree over the river.

Baltimore oriole sitting in a tree over the Black River.

Baltimore oriole sitting in a tree over the Black River.

We sat in the shade and ate our snacks before heading home. Once back at the cabin we were able to sit on the porch and relax and watch the birds for a while.  I took plenty of photos of birds…

Red-bellied woodpecker - one of my favorite photographic subjects!

Red-bellied woodpecker – one of my favorite photographic subjects!

 

Rose-breasted grosbeak, another favorite!
Rose-breasted grosbeak, another favorite!

 …and other critters.

 

Curious chipmunk.

Curious chipmunk.

Mark tramped around in our woods and saw a black-and-white warbler but by time I went out with him, we couldn’t find it again.

Later in the evening we went to have a cookout with some friends of ours. We had a great time sitting around the campfire and stayed up way too late! All-in-all, it was a perfect northwoods day that I didn’t want to end!

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Unfulfilled Expectations

Northwoods Journal

Thursday, May 21, 2015

We woke to another lovely morning – clear and crisp. The gang of blue jays was anxiously awaiting their peanuts when we pulled back the curtains but we didn’t see many of the smaller birds today. I guess they can find enough food in the forest now.

Mark fired up the Coleman stove and fried up some bacon and I made pancakes for a nice breakfast. Even though it was chilly, I wrapped up in a quilt and took my second cup of coffee out on the deck. I knew the holiday weekend would soon be gearing up, with lots of neighbors up, so I wanted to enjoy the peace and quiet, and birdsong while I could.

I used some of the precious water from home (our well water here is still not running clear) to wash my hair and then we made our plan for the day. I had read on e-bird that there are plenty of bird species being seen at Negwegon State Park but that is a full-day trip from here, which would mean taking the dogs. Three beagles do not make for the best birding. So, we decided to stick closer to Alpena so we wouldn’t be gone so long.

We took the dogs for a nice, long hike before we left. Up the power lines across the road and back to Wayne’s World, but instead of going down their driveway and back to the road, we continued on farther to the Nickerson Valley ATV trail which comes out on Voyer Lake Rd. a bit farther down. It made for a nice hike, except we had to walk back on the road and the logging trucks are still passing through about every fifteen minutes, throwing up humongous clouds of dust – cough, choke.

I made some sandwiches for a makeshift picnic and we packed a string bag with some essentials. I have purchased a new Warblers field guide (thanks to the glowing review by H.J. at Avian 101), but it is a heavy tome not necessarily meant for hauling around in a pack. I also purchased a Sibley’s pocket guide to warblers, a waterproof, accordion style fold up guide that is very handy to keep in the backpack.

We headed toward Alpena with the thought of stopping first at the Alpena Wildlife Sanctuary which is close to downtown, almost right in the middle of the Thunder Bay River – at least that’s how it looks on the Google maps picture. But despite all our various electronic gadgets, we could not find the entrance to the park and there were no signs to help us along. According to our Garmin, the Alpena Wildlife Sanctuary doesn’t even exist! So, we drove on through town, past the giant LaFarge quarry toward Misery Bay. We made a stop near Isaacson Bay, which according to the internet is a fantastic place to spot shore birds, but there was not a thing to be seen! Well, that’s not exactly true, we did see a couple of great egrets but they were too far away for a photo. There was a small copse of trees on the other side of the road, with a watershed so we tramped around in there a bit and saw a common yellowthroat and an American redstart. I am learning the benefits of patience and being STILL and was able to get a few decent shots of the redstart, which made me happy.

American redstart.

American redstart.

That would have been better without the branch right across his face, but hey, you can’t have everything when it comes to warblers!  Here’s a less obstructed, but shadier view.

American redstart.

American redstart.

Continuing down Misery Bay Road, we found the Alpena Township Nature Preserve. Mark had read about this place while looking on the internet for birding spots. There is no parking, so you have to pull off on the side of the road, but there are several nice trails that lead out to the beach. The little spit of land the preserve is situated on is surrounded by El Cajon Bay on one side and Misery Bay on the other. You would think it would be the PERFECT spot for waterfowl and shore birds. I was to be extremely disappointed.

We walked the central trail all the way to the beach at El Cajon Bay. The trail winds through very thick balsam forest, so maybe not the optimal birding habitat. There were plenty of black-throated green warblers (we could hear them more than see them) and chickadees, but few other birds. There were lots of lovely wildflowers, and huge areas covered by these crested dwarf irises.  I wish I could have gotten a decent photo of a field of them but it was not to be. 😦

Field of crested dwarf irises.  They were much more stunning in real life!

Field of crested dwarf irises. They were much more stunning in real life!

Crested dwarf iris.

Crested dwarf iris.

El Cajon Bay and the point were very lovely. We had the place totally to ourselves and it was completely silent. Photos can’t do it justice, of course.

El Cajon Bay.

El Cajon Bay.

Somewhere over there is a sinkhole trail, but we didn’t go that way.

Round Island in El Cajon Bay.

Round Island in El Cajon Bay.

There were plenty of these orange flowers near the beach. Mark thought they were hawkweed until we saw one fully opened up. I thought they were Indian paintbrush, but despite our wildflower guide, I’m still not 100% certain. I apologize for the hand in the photo, the wind was whipping out there by the bay!

Indian paintbrush?

Indian paintbrush?

Unfortunately, we didn’t see any wading or shore birds to add to my 2015 Big Bird List. We did see a common merganser, plenty of Canada geese with goslings, and great egrets. One bird I was able to add to my list was the common tern, but I did not get any useable photos. We also saw some sort of sparrow but despite Mark and I both getting a clear look at it, we still could not agree on an identification. (I was unable to get a photo to help.)

There were other trails that connect with the beach, so as we hiked around the point, we expected to come across one of them and head back to where we were parked. The farther we went, the more concerned I became that we were not going to find the trail. I was getting tired and hungry and a bit cross by this point. We ended up having to turn around and go back the way we came, which turned out to be okay because along the central trail going back we had a great crested flycatcher land right in front of us!

Great crested flycatcher.

Great crested flycatcher.

I began snapping photos and then it swooped down across in front of us and landed in a tree on the opposite side of the trail. I was still clicking away with my camera and what should I capture, but the bird nabbing a dragonfly!

Great crested flycatcher nabbing dragonfly.

Great crested flycatcher nabbing dragonfly.

And gulping it down!

Great crested flycatcher gulping down dragonfly.

Great crested flycatcher gulping down dragonfly.

(Click on any photo to see a larger view.)

Our “picnic” lunch had to be eaten in the FJ as we headed back toward Alpena. We made a couple stops at stores in town before heading back home. Our perfect day clouded up and we had a few spits of rain, but thankfully it didn’t last. It was nearly 4:30 when we got back. The sun was back out so we tried to sit out on the porch, but there was a strong, cold wind blowing which drove me back inside.

Despite the wind, Mark was able to make a small fire, set up his tri-pod grill and barbeque us some pork chops. I fried up some red potatoes and added a can of green beans and we felt like we were eating like royalty! Food tastes so much better up here, especially after a day outdoors. The dishes were set aside so we could take the dogs for another hike. Mark drove up to Blue Jay trail and we hiked a big loop, which made the dogs happy. There wasn’t much to see except as we neared the vehicle, I heard movement in the woods and there was a deer about 15 or 20 yards into the trees. She stayed still but there were too many trees for a photo. Can you spot the deer?

White-tailed deer hiding.

White-tailed deer hiding.

A giant mountain of dishes awaited us when we returned. Three long hikes had made me very tired, but I still stayed up until midnight trying to get yesterday’s blog post up while I had the chance. The only plan for the morrow is garage sales.

Even though I was disappointed with not seeing any shore birds or having many to add to my 2015 list, it was still a 20 species day. We saw: blue jays, ruby-throated hummingbird, rose-breasted grosbeak, chickadee, white-breasted nuthatch, hairy woodpecker, red-bellied woodpecker, robin, tundra swan, common yellowthroat, black-throated green warbler, common merganser, great egret, red-winged black bird, great crested flycatcher, Canada goose, American redstart, tree swallow, common tern, (?) sparrow.

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Keep Your Eye on the Birdie!

Northwoods Journal
Wednesday, May 20, 2015

We arrived at our northwoods hideaway Tuesday night. We left home around 4:45 but ran into bad traffic at Ann Arbor. We used to have this nifty detour we could take to get around the back-up at the S curve where 14 comes into US23, but now so many people know about it that it isn’t quicker anymore. We stopped once to grab a bite to eat, once for gas, and once to give the dogs a quick walk. Then we stopped at the Knot Hole in Comins to have a drink with my nephew who is an Oscoda County Sheriff’s Deputy. That meant it was well after 10 p.m. when we arrived. Thankfully no surprises or disasters met us, so we were able to unpack and fall into bed just after midnight.

Dogs might not be able to tell time, but Milo knows exactly when breakfast is supposed to be served, so there was no sleeping in, despite our late bedtime. I put the bird food and feeders out right away but the birds were slow to arrive. The first visitor was a ruby-throated hummingbird and that was the one feeder I hadn’t put out!! I quickly filled the nectar feeder with the homemade nectar I had brought up and later was rewarded with photos like this one of a female perched in the maple tree. This photo is not cropped at all!

Female ruby-throated hummingbird.

Female ruby-throated hummingbird.

The first bird we saw for the day was not at the feeders, it was rooting around in the leaves and turned out to be a veery! That was pretty exciting. The blue jays began arriving in droves not long after the hummingbird and then we had rose-breasted grosbeaks and lots of others. It ended up being a 23+ species day and 14 of those species we saw on our 3 acre property!

Female rose-breasted grosbeak trying to figure out the hanging feeder.

Female rose-breasted grosbeak trying to figure out the hanging feeder.

Blue jay with seed.

Blue jay with seed.

No big breakfast because Mark’s first priority was getting the new water pump installed and getting the water running. There was enough bird activity to keep me and my camera occupied. For the first time we were able to identify a warbler by its song before we saw it. I then stalked this black-throated green warbler all over our yard and woods, praying to get at least one useable photo. I managed to get two, along with lots of blurry ones!

Black-throated green warbler.

Black-throated green warbler.

Black-throated green warbler.

Black-throated green warbler.

We had plenty of rose-breasted grosbeaks and I just can’t resist posting a couple of pictures. They are so photogenic and fairly cooperative subjects!

Female rose-breasted grosbeak.

Female rose-breasted grosbeak.

Male rose-breasted grosbeak.

Male rose-breasted grosbeak.

Thankfully the new pump fit on top of the pressure tank and the installation went fairly smooth. Around noon we had to make a quick run into town for a few last pipe fittings. It was lunch time when we got back and even though it was cool, we ate our sandwiches outside. Mark moved the table off the covered porch and into the sun. As we sat there eating, I saw a flash of red – a scarlet tanager had landed in one of our trees!

Male scarlet tanager.

Male scarlet tanager.

Later we saw the female. I was so excited because even though she was not as cooperative as her male counterpart, I had never seen, much less photographed, a female scarlet tanager before!

Female scarlet tanager.

Female scarlet tanager.

We also heard the warbling vireo singing while we were eating and I stalked it for a few minutes getting photos but I won’t post them here because it was above my head and all my photos are of his underparts!

While Mark finished up getting the pump running, I took the dogs for a hike. We went up Stevens Spring and to the two-track that leads back to Sportsmen’s Dam Lake. I was extra vigilant, both watching and listening for birds, but there was nothing of interest. There were 5 tundra swans on the lake, but I didn’t have my camera with me. On the way back, I saw a yellow-bellied sapsucker. It landed right in the middle of the road then flew back and forth across in front of me. When I got back, I told Mark about it and it wasn’t long before he came flying through our yard. This was the only decent shot I got, and as you can see his head was hammering away, so it’s a bit blurry. When I tried to creep closer and get a view without a branch in the way, he flew off.

Yellow-bellied sapsucker.

Yellow-bellied sapsucker.

The pump was running when I returned which was GREAT news. Unfortunately, it was pulling up a lot of sand so the water was not running clear. Mark filled all the gallon jugs several times (he didn’t want to overwhelm our septic by running too much water down the drain) trying to get it to clear up. It looks like it will take a while.

Mark suggested we go looking for more birds, so we drove down to Voyer Lake hoping to see some ducks or loons, but there wasn’t anything to be seen. Then we drove up Sportsmen’s Dam Rd. to the power lines and down to the watershed area, where we had a lot more luck. I am getting better at being patient and just standing quietly, waiting to see something. Although we weren’t overwhelmed by birds, we did see eastern kingbirds, tree swallows, a northern flicker, red-winged black birds, a Baltimore oriole, and this common yellowthroat.

Common yellowthroat.

Common yellowthroat.

There was an elderly gentleman that drove down to Voyer Lake while we were standing on shore and he told us the ticks are really bad this year. Well, he wasn’t kidding! While standing at the watershed area, we were picking ticks off our clothes right and left. When we got back, I had to totally undress and turn all my clothes inside out to check them. I peeled more than 15 ticks off myself and my clothing!! This seemed incredible considering I was wearing multiple layers, I had my t-shirt tucked in, a belt on, and a hooded sweatshirt with the hood up! Needless to say, for the rest of the evening I had the creepy-crawlies!

After dinner, Mark took Daisy and Ruby for another quick walk while I cleaned up the mess and put everything away. When he got back, we went for a drive looking for wildlife. We only saw 5 or 6 deer. But as we drove up to one gas field, we could see several turkeys. My attention wasn’t on the turkeys though, it was on something else in the middle of the field. I grabbed the binoculars and saw it was a raccoon! What it was doing is anyone’s guess. At one point it stood up on its hind legs then sort of fell over. Unfortunately my photos aren’t good because I was shooting through the windshield plus it was dusk and the light was bad, and it really was beyond the range of my camera.

Raccoon doing...what?

Raccoon doing…what?

A short while later, we passed another gas field and I saw something moving. I told Mark to stop and back up and we were both pretty excited to see a badger!! Again, not a good photo due to the bad lighting and it being a bit far from my camera range, but I am still happy because in all the years we’ve been coming up here, we’ve only seen badgers a handful of times and I’ve never gotten a photo – good or bad- before!  (This is cropped, of course.)

Badger.

Badger.

By time we got home, we were both pretty worn out. It had been a very full and enjoyable day.

These are the bird species I saw and could positively identify: veery, ruby-throated hummingbird, blue jay, robin, rose-breasted grosbeak, chickadee, hairy woodpecker, black-throated green warbler, scarlet tanager, warbling vireo, yellow-bellied sapsucker, tundra swan, white-breasted nuthatch, downy woodpecker, Baltimore oriole, eastern kingbird, red-winged black bird, common yellowthroat, tree swallow, northern flicker, mourning dove, red-bellied woodpecker, turkey.

I was so exhausted I fell asleep on the couch. I had to wake up and stumble back to bed. Tomorrow we hope to go on adventure looking for shore birds.

Posted in Northwoods Adventures | Tagged , , , , , | 15 Comments

Big Birding Weekend

Our tradition for the past 15 years has been to spend Mother’s Day weekend in the northwoods, but due to our landscaping project we decided to forgo the trip this year and stick around home. Since we couldn’t go to our beloved northwoods, Mark and I both took Friday afternoon off from work and went to do some birding.

Friday began the “Biggest Week in American Birding”. This has become a huge tourist attraction in northwest Ohio. Magee Marsh, the center of the activities, has been named the best birding spot in America and now brings birders from all over the world during the height of the warbler migration.

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Since birding in a big crowd is not very appealing to us, Mark and I decided to try a couple new spots that we read about in the Biggest Week magazine.

There's an entire magazine filled with events!

There’s an entire magazine filled with events!

After I got off work Friday we headed to Cullen Park in Point Place, Ohio where there is a mile-long causeway that juts out into Lake Erie with trees on both sides of a walking path. Despite the giant “Welcome Birders” sign at the entrance, we only saw two other people who were bird watching, everyone else was there for the fishing.

It was a very hot and humid day and I was thankful the causeway was mostly shaded by all the trees. Overall the birding was fairly good. I added eight new species to my 2015 Big Bird List. I’m sure we would have seen many more species had we gone out to Magee Marsh, but I was happy with our day. I’ve learned that searching for warblers is not really my forte. My eyesight makes seeing them difficult, they are nearly impossible for me to photograph (or photograph well) and they are also hard to identify! I have a feeling we saw many more species that we could not identify clearly.

Here is one example of my photography efforts.

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Nashville warbler (?)

Those little things know exactly how to stay out of sight!  Despite three field guides, Mark and I still aren’t positive this is a Nashville warbler, that is just our best guess.  That is one of the reasons for some of my frustration over the weekend.

The only birds I got fairly good at identifying were the yellow-rumped warblers and the yellow warblers, mostly because there were A LOT of them, and they were a bit more cooperative photo subjects!  (Click on any photo for a larger version, or scroll over to see the caption.)

As we made our way slowly down the trail we came across this fox snake.  It was just basking in the sun on the trail.

Fox snake.

Fox snake.

Fox snake, close up.

Fox snake, close up.

I snapped a few photos and we went on our way.  A short time later, as we stopped to try and identify a bird, one of the fishermen – a big guy with a southern accent – stopped to warn us to watch out for snakes, that he had just killed a copperhead.  My heart sank because I knew he had just killed that snake!  Fox snakes are a threatened species and have a limited range in this area around the Lake Erie shores.  I was so sad, and upset at his ignorance!  Although, since he had a southern accent, I’m sure he grew up with the fear of copperheads being pounded into his head.  Unfortunately he never took time to learn what one looks like!  I had touched this snake and it didn’t even move, much less try to bite me.

There was a large flock of waterfowl out in one of the little coves.  They were a bit too far out for my camera, but I took some photos anyway, hoping they would help in identification.  I was excited to figure out later that some of these are ruddy ducks, another new-for-me species to add to my list!

Ruddy ducks, and others.

Ruddy ducks, and others.

Pair of ruddy ducks.

Pair of ruddy ducks.

Here is another “lifer” for me — Mark believes this is a warbling vireo.

Warbling vireo (?)

Warbling vireo (?)

As we were headed back toward the parking area, this yellow bird landed almost right in front of us.  It had just gotten done taking a dip in the lake and was preening right before my eyes.  I got a nice series of photos.  Mark and I are still at odds over what species this is.  He insists that it is a female yellow warbler, but I am not convinced.  What is your opinion?

Although they aren’t rare or unusual, I liked this shot of a great egret and a great blue heron.

Great blue heron and great egret on the hunt.

Great blue heron and great egret on the hunt.

We left Cullen Park and went down the street just a few yards to Bayside Park where there is a nice walking trail.  Unfortunately, by this time I was really hot, sweaty and tired, so I wasn’t quite as enthusiastic as we walked the loop — which was pretty much in full sun the whole time.  We didn’t see much of interest and I didn’t take a single photo, until we returned to the parking lot.  When we had parked in this small lot right off the road, I noticed right away there was a tilled garden area and many bird feeders in the trees around it.  When we came back I literally stopped in my tracks to see a giant raccoon draped around the tree eating from one of the bird feeders!

Daytime raider.

Daytime raider.

Don't try to stop me!

Don’t try to stop me!

By time we pulled out of the lot, the raccoon had managed to get the feeder broken loose and was carrying it down from the tree.

It wasn’t hard to convince Mark to go through McDonald’s and get an ice cream on the way home.  Then I managed to persuade him to make one last stop at the power plant where we saw all the ducks a month ago.  Unfortunately, this time there wasn’t much to see except some swallows, a pair of ring-necked ducks and a pair of American coots.

Tree swallow.

Tree swallow or barn swallow?

American coots.

American coots. The one on the right had just ducked under the water and came up with a long plant hanging out of its bill.

Saturday morning we woke up to a soft drizzle, which put a slight damper on our plans.  We wanted to head up to Sterling State Park early to look for more birds, but had to wait until the rain stopped.  Thankfully, it cleared off by around 9 a.m. and we were able to head to the park.  The day started out cool but soon turned very warm and humid.  There were plenty of birds right from the moment we got on the walking path.

Tree swallow pair.

Tree swallow pair.

Tree swallow.

Tree swallow.

There were several eastern kingbirds who were very willing subjects.  This one stayed perched on this stick the entire time we walked past!  I took a whole series of photos, but I won’t bore you with more than one.

Eastern kingbird.

Eastern kingbird.

Yellow warbler.

Yellow warbler.

We spent three hours strolling around the path.  Again, it was a bit frustrating for me because I had a hard time getting a clear view of the birds.  The day started out overcast but soon was very sunny.  We did add another lifer to my list, this common yellowthroat.  This photo is par for the day’s course, unfortunately — bad!!!  I was thankful for the black eye mask, that was the only way we were able to identify it.

Common yellow-throat.

Common yellow-throat.

There were plenty of yellow-rumped warblers around.  And we saw another warbling vireo.

This was probably my best photo of the day – really the whole weekend, a male blue-winged teal.

Female blue-winged teal.

Blue-winged teal (m).

Some subjects were more cooperative.  Some of you who know me well, know I’ve got a thing for turtles and frogs. 🙂

Mark thought it was funny how the bigger turtle has his leg up on the smaller one. :)

Mark thought it was funny how the bigger turtle has his leg up on the smaller one. 🙂

Little turtle crossing our path.

Little turtle crossing our path.

I like subjects that stay still!

I like subjects that stay still!

I was excited to see a pair of wood ducks, but my photos didn’t turn out well at all because of their distance from the path and the bright light.  Even with editing, this is the best I could come up with in the photo department.  :/  Every photo of the pair of them together, you could barely tell what they were, even with cropping.

Male wood duck.

Male wood duck.

We are pretty sure we saw an osprey but I only got one photo and it was really too far out of range of my camera.  It landed on a giant power pole and as soon as I snapped a frame, it hopped down in between the metal bars and didn’t come back out.  The photo I took, its head is behind one of the metal pieces, so even zooming in on the computer we can’t make a positive I.D.  I would love to add that to my 2015 list!

Our best “get” of the day was this blue-gray gnatcatcher.  How I got this decent photo is anyone’s guess, but I’ll take it!!

Blue-gray gnatcatcher.

Blue-gray gnatcatcher.

As we neared the parking area, Mark spotted this fox snake up in a tree.  Maybe it was sunning itself, maybe it was hoping for an avian meal.

Fox snake in tree.

Fox snake in tree.

I was only able to add five more birds to my 2015 Big Bird List for Saturday.  Mark saw a yellow-breasted chat but I was busy trying to see this tiny yellow bird that had a nest in a thicket and missed the chat.  I was disappointed to not have more positive I.D’s.  At the end of the day, I decided that warbler hunting is more frustrating than fun for me, but Mark loves it.  He can stand around for hours looking up at the trees and doesn’t mind stopping to dig through the field guides every five minutes.  I guess I am too antsy and impatient.

It wasn’t all birding fun and games all weekend.  Mark worked hard finishing up the landscaping.  Mother’s Day we got the last of the plants in the ground along with some perennials in the front and back.  A couple of weeks ago our neighbor, who kindly plows our driveway all winter, came over to tell us that he is removing two sets of trees that are between our two houses.  I was crushed as the birds use those trees and they also provide shade for our house.  Since they have lived in that house, he has removed every tree.  After these trees go this weekend, all that will be left in their yard are a couple of lilac bushes and a forsythia.  Because of his decision to remove the trees, we added another tree to our front yard, a Japanese maple.  Here is a gallery of what the landscaping looks like.  In the one photo is my new glider.  On Mother’s Day my son-in-law and youngest son put it together for me while I planted flowers and Mark finished up the walkway.

I wish I had “before” pictures so you could see what a HUGE difference the landscaping has made to the look of our home.  It’s really amazing how different it looks now.

The concrete goose in the one photo was my mother’s.  I’ve had it since she passed away almost 18 years ago.  I also have all the clothes she had for it and I dress it up on occasion.  It always makes me think of her.

I’m sorry this post is so long and I hope I didn’t bore anyone too much.  There was just a lot to fit into a single post.  Friday is my last day of preschool and then I will be off for the summer.  We will be heading north for a whole week over Memorial Day and I’m hoping for sun fun adventures to report on!  Thanks for bearing with me and God bless!

Posted in My Life, Photo Ops | Tagged , , , , , , , | 11 Comments

Little Rays of Sunshine

My birthday dawned drab and dreary with intermittent rain. As I sat down with my morning coffee, I glanced out the front window toward all the bird feeders and thought, “Lord, it sure would be great if an oriole could come on my birthday.”

Well, I no more than thought that thought when TWO orioles landed on the orange feeder!! Little rays of sunshine sent to brighten up my birthday! Unfortunately, when I jumped up to grab my camera, they both flew off. It was probably just as well because a few moments later a hummingbird appeared but the gray darkness of the morning made photos impossible.

Even if it was my birthday, I couldn’t just lollygag in front of the window all day, I still had to go to work.  On Tuesdays I only work in the morning so after work I enjoyed shopping and lunch out with my co-workers. It was nearly 4 p.m. when I returned home and thankfully, the orioles had returned, too!!

I have to apologize that these photos aren’t as good as I would have liked, since they were taken from behind the picture window glass on an overcast, drizzly day. But still, these guys sure did brighten up my day!

Birthday Baltimore oriole.

Birthday Baltimore oriole.

Oriole samples the orange.

Oriole samples the orange.

Now trying some grape jelly.

Now trying some grape jelly.

Showing me his best side.

Showing me his best side.

This morning we had heavy fog but by time I returned from work in the afternoon, things had cleared up considerably. Along with the real sunshine, came more rays of bright orange sunshine to make my day.

Baltimore oriole.

Baltimore oriole.

I liked this one, with the orange pulp hanging from his beak. :)

I liked this one, with the orange pulp hanging from his beak. 🙂

I had so much fun watching the oriole circus outside my window, it was nearly impossible to get anything else done. There were so many of them and they don’t like to be on the feeder at the same time, so sometimes one of them was hanging off the bottom. Unfortunately, I couldn’t successfully photograph two of them on the feeder at the same time. Every photo I took was blurry. I think my camera couldn’t figure out what it was supposed to focus on, and the light color of the tree bark in the background also messed with the exposure. So, you’ll have to take my word for it that it was a fun time, and enjoy these photos of singular birds. 🙂

Oriole pole dance.

Oriole pole dance.

Such a handsome fellow!

Such a handsome fellow!

Hmmmm, wrong feeder!

Hmmmm, wrong feeder!

I can't forget the ladies!

I can’t forget the ladies!

Pretty female Baltimore oriole.

Pretty female Baltimore oriole.

It was after 3:30 when I returned home from work but even so, my first priority was refilling all the feeders. I noticed that the mealworm feeder was empty and I thought that was odd because I had put fresh meal worms in it this morning. I was happy that something was eating those expensive live worms! Imagine my surprise when a short while after putting out fresh meal worms, I saw an oriole land on the feeder and start chowing down! I had no idea orioles ate meal worms. So, that explained where this morning’s meal worms went!

Baltimore oriole eating mealworm.

Baltimore oriole eating mealworm.

Getting some grub.

Getting some grub.

Orioles weren’t the only bright spot of color today — there were plenty of rose-breasted grosbeaks, too. Here’s a handsome fellow still getting in his full coat of breeding plumage.

Male rose-breasted grosbeak getting his breeding colors.

Male rose-breasted grosbeak getting his breeding colors.

Oh, I may as well throw in another of the handsome guys. 🙂

Male rose-breasted grosbeak.

Male rose-breasted grosbeak.

And here are some pretty girls that were attracting attention.

Female rose-breasted grosbeak.

Female rose-breasted grosbeak.

One of my favorites of the day! :)

One of my favorites of the day! 🙂

Female rose-breasted grosbeak.

Female rose-breasted grosbeak.

We were supposed to leave tomorrow afternoon and head up north for Mother’s Day weekend, which has been our tradition for more than 15 years.  But Mark is feeling overwhelmed with everything that still needs to be done around here, so we have decided to cancel our trip and stay home.  I am still going to take Friday afternoon off work and since it is the start of The Biggest Week In American Birding, Mark says we will go somewhere for the afternoon to do some bird watching!  So, hopefully I’ll have something interesting to post over the weekend.

I was going to apologize for all the photos in this post, but then decided against it. I was having so much fun watching and photographing these beautiful birds, I just couldn’t keep myself from posting the best of the bunch! I hope you enjoyed them as much as I did and that these little rays of sunshine brightened your day, too!

Posted in My Life, Photo Ops | Tagged , , , , | 8 Comments